The way we respond to the events in our day is often based on our temperament. You may be tempted to think these hard-wired response patterns are too engrained to change at this point in your life. However, this is not the case! Reconditioning your response patterns takes a little practice but is very effective….and good for your health.
Why should we put a little work into not sweating the small stuff? The little stressors we allow into our lives affects our bodies instantly and over time. The culprit is cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released by your adrenal glands when there is a perceived stress. According to Psychology Today, elevated cortisol levels may interfere with learning, increase weight gain, blood pressure and heart disease. It has also been linked to depression and lower life expectancy.
In addition to the science, we all know it doesn’t feel good when we are stressed. So leave that cortisol release for the real fight or flight situations (perhaps if you encounter a hungry bear in the woods!)
Here are a few common situations where you can learn how to stop sweating the small stuff.
Change in perspective
Your significant other does those few things which you have decided are your pet peeves. One of them is leaving his or her towel on the floor after a shower. You can start to feel the fire rage within you as you enter the bathroom to find, once again, the towel laying in a heap….right under the towel hook. Thoughts about the logic of this action start to race through your brain and in turn cause your blood pressure to elevate. Stop. There are things you can do to put an end to these unproductive thought patterns. Change your perspective. Think about the little things YOU might be doing that annoy your spouse or boyfriend just the same. We all do them. Her or she is not doing this to you. By changing perspectives, you can see the humor in it. You can simply laugh it off when you encounter the towel and hang it up. Or you can nicely ask your significant other if he could try to hang up the towel more often. By realizing we are not perfect, we lessen the pressure we impose on ourselves and others. Approaching pet peeves from a humorous perspective certainly lightens the load of a very small thing in the grand scheme of what life throws your way.
Let it go
Your child is going through a difficult time at school with her friends. She has had the same two best friends all through elementary school. Now she has entered middle school and the dynamics are changing. Her two best friends are becoming closer and starting to exclude her as they meet new peers. You feel the pain of her loss and sadness in your own gut. You want to call a meeting with the parents and have a talk about including your daughter. The stress is starting to keep you up at night. The more effective approach is to teach your child how to talk to her friends and then talk to your child about how friendship circles shift throughout one’s life. And then…..let it go. By relinquishing control, life has a way of unfolding in some very positive directions. By stopping any orchestration, we allow a space for new friendships to develop and opportunities to present themselves. Letting go of control can feel good and exciting as you seem to be magically led down more authentic paths. Watch as the stressful feelings that seemed so unbearable begin to melt away.
Look for the good in things
It’s the job of your dreams, and the interview process is down to two equally strong candidates. You are candidate number one. Three emotionally taxing weeks of research on the new company, resume preparation, letter of recommendations, remote interviews and even buying a new outfit. The final interview with the Vice President lasts 5 hours. You had to fly across the country to meet with the interviewer. You wait anxiously for two grueling days only to find out you didn’t get the job. It’s important to grant yourself a day or so to mourn the loss of what you thought was the job of your dreams but don’t let it linger. Stepping back and finding the good in things allows you to shift perspectives and to take control over rising cortisol levels. Was the ‘job of your dreams’ really so great? Focus on good thoughts such as having more time to spend with your family. Maybe the interview process made you realize a different path you would like to pursue. Perhaps in your research you found another company that interests you even more than this job. Looking for the good in things stops the cycle of hormone release that can cause depression. We all know that negative thought patterns can spiral out of control if we allow them to. Focusing on seeing the positive in our situation can even cause the feel-good hormone, dopamine, to replace the increasing cortisol levels that accompanies stress.
Learn something new
You are all set for your road trip – car is packed, clean and organized and kids are nestled into their seats with working headphones and age-appropriate movies. You are making good timing thanks to your navigation app. Then you hit a stand still. A jam of cars about a mile long and all the cars are idling. You decide to wait it out a few minutes to see if the construction up ahead clears a bit. 5 minutes go by and your heart starts to race, and the frustration begins to surface. You check your app to see that all the alternate routes add at least 20 minutes to your drive time.
Ok so now you know your situation and that you can’t change it. But….you do have the power to make a decision. You choose another route and add 25 minutes because you’d rather be moving then waiting in a stand still. Challenge yourself to learn something new! The new route may take you to an area you’ve never been before. Allow the change in plans to pique your curiosity. Exploring new roads and towns you’ve heard of but haven’t seen is exciting. By approaching your new surroundings with curiosity, you are learning and giving your brain a mini workout. You may notice wildflowers and hills instead of a sterile freeway. Allow your mind and body to experience the lowering of cortisol and learn something along the way. Your children will in turn learn as they see you calmly handle what could have been a frustrating situation.
You’re tired and the last thing you want to do is get up early and drive to the Monday morning meeting you have scheduled at 7am. Your mind has become one endless cycle of complaints that started Sunday afternoon, lamenting the fact that you have to get up when it’s still dark outside. Adopting an attitude of gratefulness shifts the mindset and chemically changes your bodily responses. Imagine waking up to feel excited about your coffee. Excited to head out on the road and watch the sunrise. Think about how different the morning looks when it is dark and quiet. There is less traffic. Reflect upon on how you are lucky to be employed. You are in good health. You are lucky to be able to drive. You are lucky to see. I know this may sound a bit Pollyanna but according to research at UC Davis, showing gratitude enhances both physical and mental well-being. Showing appreciation allows you to be more engaged and present in your life. The physical benefits can be seen in lower inflammatory markers, depression scores, anxiety and blocks toxic emotions that tend to promote envy, resentment and regret. Showing appreciation through a gratitude journal is a good way to begin or end your day and condition your body to respond in a more effective way. Reflect upon how your body feels as those pesky cortisol levels begin to melt away.
With Health & Happiness,
Katie Zupan-Lehman, MSN Bio
Katie is a Mindfulness Practitioner. She also has her Masters in Nursing as a Family Nurse Practitioner and a B.S. in Psychology. As the creator of the website www.thymeandpresence, Katie recognizes the negative effects of a busy lifestyle and believes in the importance of taking time to step back to reconnect with your mind + body + spirit.